Up till now, mobile gaming has existed on a different plane from gaming on most other mainstream platforms. Because of the format and the accepted economic model that mobile gaming operates on, the expected scope of a mobile game is usually pretty small. However, Sega has just raised the bar with Super Real Tennis, which is one of the most playable mobile offerings we've seen--as well as one of the best-looking. This is a mobile tour-de-force that feels more like a full-fledged modern console game than something that should appear on a cell phone.
The game bears a striking resemblance to Sega's arcade classic, Virtua Tennis, both in form and in function. This is less surprising knowing that both Virtua Tennis and Super Real Tennis were developed by Sega, albeit by different internal studios. Simply put, you can expect Super Real Tennis to deliver a very straightforward game of tennis, whether you choose to play a one-off match or engage in the game's fairly substantial tournament mode. You're given a behind-the-back perspective on the action, and you can control your player with either the number pad or the phone's main navigation control stick, which generally proves to be more ergonomic and responsive. Pushing in on the control stick or pushing the 5 key on the number pad when the ball gets near you will set up your swing, and between the time that you activate your swing and make contact with the ball, you can use the directional controls to alter the direction of the ball. It's a fairly nuanced system, and it's one that takes awhile to get acclimated to, especially considering the fact that even the easiest opponents offered by the game give little quarter.
The gameplay, while responsive and enjoyable, doesn't really break any new ground. The presentation of Super Real Tennis, on the other hand, is truly unlike anything we've seen before on a mobile phone. Running on the top-of-the-line Sony Ericsson K700 handset, the game renders true 3D graphics with a level of detail and smoothness that almost rivals what the original Sony PlayStation was capable of offering. The frame rate is just shy of 25 frames per second, but it stays consistent. The character models are realistically proportioned, and they animate fairly well, diving for shots that are just out of reach and winding up for powerful overhead slams. The court you play on doesn't really change, but it does its job of re-creating a professional-level tennis court, complete with line judges. However, if you look closely at the crowd, you'll notice that the entire grandstand is made from a flat, pixelated plane. The sound design in Super Real Tennis is pretty spare, featuring a few sounds for when the racket makes contact with the ball and a bit of fanfare whenever a point is scored. Though serviceable, the sounds are a little fuzzy. There are also a few little ditties that play over the main menu and whenever you win a match. These upbeat synthesized tunes do a great job of evoking the arcade feel of the game that inspired Super Real Tennis.
Looking at the big picture, Super Real Tennis is so accomplished in terms of presentation and gameplay that it almost seems unfair to compare it to the current mobile gaming offerings in the US. What makes this particularly shocking is the fact that the game has been available in Japan for nearly a year and a half. The game isn't perfect, but it's impressive enough to stand out from the crowd, and it could possibly legitimize the mobile gaming platform in the eyes of the gaming community. It's important to note, however, that this mobile tennis-fest comes embedded in the K700, which will not actually be available for retail sale on the US market until later in 2004. Super Real Tennis likely won't be available for download on other handsets for the foreseeable future either.